This week we talk to Stephen Marsh, the man behind Pinkster, and try a summery cocktail especially designed to go with his pink gin.
When Pinkster was launched in 2013, pink gin as a category did not exist. Fast forward six years, and according to the WSTA, flavoured and pink gins are now valued at £165m, up a staggering 751% on 2017. Stephen Marsh, Pinkster’s inventor, laughs when I suggest he created a monster. He describes it as “a hobby that’s grown wildly out of control.”
It all began when Marsh began reacting badly to alcoholic drinks. A doctor told him that it was because sugar and yeast were upsetting his system and advised that he give up beer and wine. Neutral spirits like gin and vodka, though, were fine. Marsh switched to gin but encountered a problem: “juniper is a very bitter botanical and doesn’t go very well with food, except game”, he told me.
So, he set out to create a gin that would be more versatile with food, mainly by trial and error; “I’m not a scientist, I’m an arts graduate,” he said. Nevertheless, Marsh has long been a fruit gin maker so he did have some experience. “I went through the fruit bowl, before having a eureka moment. Raspberries and juniper do something really special together.” Having made this discovery, it took four years to perfect the recipe.
According to Marsh, he had no plans to commercialise it. But friends told him how good the product was. So to make sure it “wasn’t just people being nice”, as he put it, he made up a load and took it to food festivals around the country. Rather than just giving out samples and asking people their opinions, he sold Pinkster drinks and made a note of the number of people who came back for seconds. It quickly became clear that he was on to a winner.
Not everyone was so keen. “We got a lot of push back from the trade. People were a bit sniffy about Pinkster because it wasn’t a classic London dry gin”, Marsh said. But customers loved it and began asking for it by name. Pinkster inspired legions of imitators. Marsh is diplomatic about his competitors, but concedes that many pink gins are gins only in name as they don’t really taste of juniper, and they can be incredibly sweet. Pinkster is made by taking a distilled dry gin, produced by G&J Distillers, and then adding raspberries and other botanicals, which is where it gets its pretty colour from.
Marsh recommends drinking Pinkster in a Martini with elderflower cordial in place of vermouth. This week’s cocktail, however, is a little more elaborate. It was created especially for Pinkster by top bartender Joe Brayford when he was at the Worship Street Whistling Shop (since closed) in London. Marsh met him when his son dragged him for a night out in Shoreditch. It’s a refreshing summer drink (if we get a summer this year) and a good way of using up that bottle of limoncello your mother-in-law bought you from her holiday in Amalfi.
Right, without further ado, here is Mellow Yellow!
Shake the gin, limoncello and two basil leaves with ice. Double strain into a wine glass filled with ice, top up with ginger ale, stir and garnish with a sprig of basil.